Engineers pave a road to education for students

A group of Rockford Public Schools students are getting an enviable real-world education, learning from civil engineers about Rockford’s Morgan Street Bridge project, 3D printer technology and how pressure tests are done on concrete.

Asti Williams of Roosevelt participated in IDOT's Engineering Academy trip to Dixon.

Asti Williams of Roosevelt participated in IDOT’s Engineering Academy trip to Dixon.

The students are part of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Engineering Academy, which took a field trip to Dixon on Friday. The academy, which is held at Jefferson High School but draws from all RPS high schools, began in late January. The goal is to expose students to  engineering through projects that encourage teamwork, problem-solving and practical applications. The sessions have been held mostly on Saturdays. The group includes 20 students. As a bonus, IDOT’s top official for diversity, recruitment and outreach met and talked with the students Friday.

I wasn’t along on the field trip to Dixon, but I did see pictures. One photo showed a crumbled concrete cylinder after pressure-testing. (Boy, am I glad IDOT does this before I drive over a road.) One photo was of the 3D printing process, which creates a digital 3D model to manufacture an item or structure by layering material. Even though I didn’t see any pictures, I would have liked to learn from civil engineers how the Morgan Street Bridge was destroyed, re-engineered and rebuilt.

Experiences like the IDOT Engineering Academy are an example of how our partnerships “layer on” to classroom learning. Being college and career ready — one of the district’s foundations or Readiness Rocks — requires exposure to real-world challenges and opportunities. It’s one thing to look at a road or a bridge or hear someone say, “civil engineer.” It’s another thing to deconstruct engineering processes and hear how real people problem-solve. The students have learned how IDOT staff have to consider factors as varied as sedimentation, erosion, air and water quality, sound pollution and habitat loss when they design projects.

Whether two or 20 of these students become civil engineers, they’ll probably never look at pavement the same way again. That’s a solid education.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. She wonders why field trips were never this interesting when she was in school.
















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